Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Review: London Is Calling, Answer The Call

The Assassin’s Creed game series is at a crossroads. After last year’s main entry, which brought the franchise to new gen systems, was poorly received, Ubisoft was left to wonder if fatigue had set in on the almost decade-long series. Even though Assassin’s Creed Unity was a ultimately great game, the launch came with bugs and glitches and a broken multiplayer component that threatened to “bring peace” to the series. This year’s iteration had to right the ship and continue to build the foundation of Ubisoft’s most popular property, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate does just that and more.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate moves the story of the war between the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templars to 1868 London, during the Victorian era, and during the Industrial Revolution. Railroads ruled the land, and labor — and how labor was handled — became a hot point as the world was growing at an exponential pace. Enter Jacob and Evie Frye, twin assassins that come to London, each with an agenda — Jacob to kill Templars and rule the streets, Evie to hunt down First Civilization artifacts and to stop the Templars from gaining more power.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review

Jacob and Evie Frye are the heroes of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

Syndicate rolls out a menagerie of real life luminaries that interact with the twins, including Alexander Graham Bell, Karl Marx, Charles Dickens, and Charles Darwin. But that list goes on and on, as these historical figures pop up with missions, or at least make an appearance, as in Florence Nightingale making an appearance in one mission involving hurt children needing medical care.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review

Charles Darwin is but one of many historical cameos in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

Syndicate takes what Unity did right, and what Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag did the best, and mashes them together to make one of the best Assassin’s Creed games to date. The Frye twins level up and players have autonomy to customize how the Fryes grow in their journey. Weapons, outfits, capes, and skills can all be unlocked or purchased, and by the end of the seventh sequence, the Fryes are assassins to be reckoned with.

The biggest new feature in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is the addition of the zipline. The Fryes, with the help of Alexander Graham Bell, are given a wrist mounted grappling gun that allows them to rule the rooftops of London just as Batman rules the rooftops of Gotham. Being able to zip around is the best way to travel, and works to shake up the monotony of always running and climbing. The only issue here is the inability to pinpoint latch points, as a press of the L1 button launches the grappling hook, and when trying to line up a zipline assassination, or to grab a floating Helix fragment, it can get frustrating.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review

The new grapple gun makes traversing the rooftops much easier.

Also new for Syndicate is horse-and-carriage travel. The Fryes can commandeer and drive horse-drawn carriages for various missions, and to just get from point A to point B, and on the whole, it works. At first, it feels like Grand Theft Carriage: London, but very soon, it becomes second nature, and even becomes fun when the carriages are upgraded for ramming combat. And as terrible as it sounds, nothing beats shooting an attacker’s horse dead and watching the carriage flip, killing the driver.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review

Vehicular combat comes to Assassin’s Creed, and it’s actually fun.

Jacob Frye is comically obsessed with building a gang to take over the streets of London, and this mechanic works splendidly. Players can upgrade aspects of the Rooks, Jacob’s gang, and take over London with knuckles and blades, as well as stealth and cunning. As the balance of power shifts from the Templar Starrick and his cronies, to Jacob and his Rooks, things begin to change for the better in each borough of London. It truly fells like the player is making a difference.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review

Evie Frye’s story arc is compelling for long-time fans of the series.

Evie on the other hand is focused on tracking down an artifact. Her story/journey will intersect with Edward Kenway’s legacy (he of Black Flag), and her quest keeps the story of Syndicate moving in the classic Assassin’s Creed direction. Each character can be switched out on the fly, and skill points earned by one are also earned by the other, so leveling up both Fryes is seamless.

The Fryes get a train as a home base, which chugs along the rather large map at all times. The train houses the safe, missions, a black market dealer, and quest givers in the guise of allies. There is a window on the train where a Frye can look out and take in all of Victorian London as the train traverses the rails. It’s a neat feature that adds flavor to a game bristling with so much to taste.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review

The Fryes seem at home on the rails of Victorian London.

Graphically, 1868 London looks wonderful, though the fog effects that worked so well in Revolutionary France in Unity are missing. While the environments truly pop, the character models don’t look as good during cutscenes as in previous games. The characters look best when in gameplay, running or zipping around, and as in previous games, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time just running around the streets, taking it all in, stopping crimes, killing Blighters (the rival gang), and just enjoying my journey to London.

The real world/present day missions are more of interactive cutscenes and less of a whole new game mode. It doesn’t do much to the greater mythology, though there are some surprises that pop up. There is also a “glitch” level that takes the player to World War I Great Britain, and unlike the aside-type “run to escape” WWII missions in Unity, this glitch is a full fledged world that needs to be fully explored, with time-specific missions, and even yet another luminary cameo by a young Winston Churchill.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review

Stealth is still an Assassin’s Creed staple.

Ubisoft opted to outright lose any multiplayer elements or companion app tie-ins, two things that caused most of the issues with last year’s Unity. The decision has proven to be the right one, though I do miss the multiplayer games from Black Flag. Hopefully, now that they have figured out how to sidestep the graphical bugs and glitches, next year, some form of multiplayer will return.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is a rather large adventure (I’m more than 50 hours in) that takes the best of the games that came before it, and creates a veritable hodgepodge of an Assassin’s Creed game that will rank as one of the series’ best. There is so much to do, and so many things to seek out (chests, beers, pressed flowers, and posters to name a few) that players can lose themselves in the dirty, downtrodden streets of one of the greatest cities in the world, during one of the most important times in history.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review

Gang warfare plays a huge role in Syndicate.

Both Jacob and Evie Frye are near-perfect as protagonists, and the battle for the soul of London between the Brotherhood and the Templars has never been more fun to play. Ubisoft was called out last year after the release of Unity (though this year’s Fallout 4 had many of the same bugs, yet inexplicably got a pass from gamers and critics alike), and they answered that call with an amazing game that proves that the Assassin’s Creed franchise still has life left. Only time will tell where the story goes from here, but the trust that Ubisoft lost last year has been returned, and the series has never been stronger.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is available now for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One consoles. This review is based off the PS4 version of the game, purchased at retail.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate Review
out of 5

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